Prior to meeting Jan Dodge, I had never spoken with a legislator about issues that were troubling me. I assumed politicians would neither listen nor care.

However, Jan not only listened and cared, but took actions to address my concerns about my son with disabilities. My son is not alone: over 17% of individuals (which is almost one in five) in Waldo County have disabilities.

Recognizing Jan’s sincerity, I enlisted her help to co-sponsor a bill that a handful of parents, including myself, had written about our sons and daughters with disabilities “falling off the cliff” after high school into isolation, often without friends or purpose.

After three consecutive years of trying, LD 924 successfully became law last year with Jan’s help, both as co-sponsor and as a member of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. Senator Luchini and Rep. Pebworth were sponsors, and Erin Herbig, while in Augusta, also helped.

LD 924 requires an investigation of the gaps and barriers to “full societal integration” for young adults with disabilities and recommendations to remedy this issue. During meetings state legislators and leaders from state agencies hear “straight from the horse’s mouth” from Task Force members who are individuals with disabilities and parent-advocates, about the problems that keep them isolated, including lack of suitable services, support staff, transportation, housing, work, and further education.

State agency leadership attend from Maine departments of Education, Labor, Health and Social Services (DHHS), Office of Aging and Disability Services (OADS), Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), MaineCare, Vocational Rehab (VR), Transportation, Housing, Universities and Colleges.

Our hope as parents is that these cross-agency collaborative conversations with individuals with disabilities will result in transformative system changes, which will improve the quality of life for all individuals with disabilities. Jan has played a critical role in this process.

I encourage everyone in House District 39 (Belfast, Belmont and Northport) to vote for Jan Dodge. She has shown that she works hard on behalf of individuals who do not have the ability to speak up for themselves.

Linda Lee